Sherry H's Reviews > To Defy a King

To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
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's review
Feb 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads, hist-fiction-europe-royalty
Read from February 24 to 28, 2011

I won this book in a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway. Thank you very much.

I have several Elizabeth Chadwick books in my "to read" list, but haven't started them. I thought I should read them in order, beginning with "The Greatest Knight", but I can never find that one at the library or at my local used book store. When I read the description for "To Defy a King", I thought it was a stand-alone, not part of a continuing story. So my bad, I have now started reading the series out of order. The good news is that "To Defy a King" does stand on its own. It provided plenty of background to make the current story understandable without reading the prior ones.

This is the story of Mahelt Marshal Bigod, a very real woman who lived in the early 13th century. Daughter of an earl, wife of the heir to an earldom, Mahelt was a strong, capable, sometimes brash young woman. The book chronicles the years leading up to her marriage and her life as a young wife and mother, amidst the turmoil of the final years of King John's reign. This is an interesting period in English history, as the king was evil and the kingdom's nobles were split between those who were loyal to him (Mahelt's father) and those who defied him (Mahelt's family by marriage), leading to civil war.

The book is well-written. I enjoyed the picture of a noble woman's role in 13th century England. There is plenty of political intrigue, war, family life, and love to make the characters come alive. While I sometimes enjoy the sexy Philippa Gregory-style historical scandals, I appreciated that this author kept the love scenes to a minimum; there were enough to understand the characters but the book didn't focus on that. The characters were multi-dimensional, their relationships were complex, and the struggle between doing what is necessary (right) and what is honorable (also right) was well illustrated.

Here is my only complaint: this woman led a fascinating life, and there is information in the afterword about the rest of Mahelt's life. There is a very compelling continuing story there, and I'm not sure why the book didn't cover this character's entire life. Oh, unless the author plans to do that in another book... ah, now I get it. And, yes, if that's the case, I'll want to read that one, too. This is good quality historical fiction.
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